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Moonlighting - The Pilot

MRA/MRA . R4 . COLOR . 89 mins . PG . PAL


Ah, Bruce Willis’ big break. Here he looks like he’s 15 and hasn’t lived with gravity all his life. Add to that Cybill Shepherd when she was younger and hotter and you have Moonlighting, the groundbreaking TV sitcom/drama/romance that graced most prime time TVs in the ‘80s.

We weren’t allowed to watch it in my house because we had to go to bed at 8:30, but once I turned 20 my parents couldn’t stop me any more! Unfortunately by then the show was off the air, but it was the principle that mattered and I would stay up every Friday night to watch Family Matters and Urkel® out of spite. The fact I hated that show didn’t seem to bother my folks, but there you go. Take that Mum and Dad!

Bruce Willis plays David Addison. Cybill Shepherd plays Maddy Hayes, a former model whose empire has been swept out from under her by unscrupulous accountants, leaving her saddled with several companies that have been write-offs for years. The City of Angels Detective Agency falls into that category and when she moves in to liquidate it, she and chief detective David Addison seriously lock horns.

For some reason the agency has plenty of staff and Addison wants to ensure they all get to keep their jobs. After pursuing her to make sure this happens, a big case lands right in their lap and boils down to the location of Nazi diamonds! Maddy Hayes, bereft of a job, finally agrees to come on board with Addison and together they found the Blue Moon Detective Agency (in relation to her notoriety as the Blue Moon Shampoo Girl). Roll credits.

I can understand the popularity this show enjoyed in its formative years, with Willis’ quick-witted quips and Shepherd’s smouldering looks. There is an excellent chemistry between the two and they work this to full advantage, making the show a friendly, yet dramatic piece. Shows like Magnum P.I. did exactly the same thing around the same time and for the ‘80s it seemed to work a treat. The real surprise is in how well these two shows stand up today. While some of Willis’ lines are delivered a little stilted, there is no denying his appeal and I have no doubt he went on to be a bit more relaxed as the show was picked up as a series. His career since this career-making series certainly needs no explanation (other than that atrocious The Story of Us. That was crap).

Cybill Shepherd plays, well, Cybill Shepherd here as she usually does and she does it well. Just the right amount of Ice Queen thrown in with Humanitarian and Vulnerable Female to give her character a broad appeal. As the comic foil to Willis’ constant Chandler-like barrage of quips (though not quite as funny) she does superbly, and as noted the chemistry between the two is what works as the major charm of the show. Willis, soon to go on to huge things as one of the biggest action heroes of all time, isn’t really a masculine hero here at all. In fact, he seems to rely heavily on his brains rather than his muscle to solve the mystery at hand. That is certainly becoming more and more popular today as cop shows with a difference spring up like wild mushrooms, but back then in the mid ‘80s it wasn’t so common. Director Robert Butler (experienced in himself with other ‘different’ shows like Kung Fu) does well to milk this testosterone-depleted ideal, which puts Addison and Hayes on equal footing from the start. And that, of course, is going to hold mass appeal. The girlies like it for Willis’ fresh-faced boyish looks and the guys dig it for Shepherd’s good looks and constant climbing of ladders in skirts.


Well, the picture quality here is quite surprising for a show around 20 years of age. There are no real artefacts I could detect and the flesh tones and colour palette are all even and natural. The flat black and white and grey palette of early ‘80s fashion is practically mandatory from scene to scene here, but they still look okay and some of the costumes sadly look to be in current fashion.

The exceptional picture quality here doesn’t do much for the stunt doubles, however, as the high visibility shows us exactly how many stunts tough guy Willis or tougher guy Shepherd did themselves (not many). The only real problem here is in some occasional interior dark scenes where the picture gets a mild grain to it, though the shadow detail is still quite excellent.


It was made for TV in the ‘80s, so naturally we get Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. Nah, I’m kidding, it’s 2.0 but I had you going. It does okay dialogue wise and there aren’t any real problems interpreting Willis’ quips. Sound effects, however, lend heroically from the Stock Effects Bucket, but the music is the real horror here. Late Saturday night piano bar in upper class hotel is the theme here with sultry saxophone, synthesiser and electric drums doing most of the awful work. It’s a very ‘80s themed musical atmosphere here, so let that be a warning to you. It does go with the show, though, it has to be said and while suited, it is a bit harsh on modern ears.


Three talent profiles current to 2000 (nice one guys) for Bruce, Cybill and receptionist Alycce Beasley give a faint backstory and comprehensive filmography, but there’s nothing here the Internet couldn’t tell you if you were that keen. And that’s all by way of extras. There aren’t even subtitles.


I get the feeling this disc is a water-tester to see if the series could sell to consumers. If you loved the show enough I can see how it would, and the show's popularity at the time and deflection of the passage of time since works well in its favour. Having never really watched the show on air at the time, I could see myself being interested in where it goes, particularly after viewing this where it came from.

Fans of the show will love it, and while the original case that sets the series up is pretty slim by way of mysteries, it does introduce the characters and situation in nice style. I enjoyed it, after all these years of living without it and can’t wait to let my parents know about it either.

Though I imagine they’ll say, "That’s nice, dear."

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      And I quote...
    "The career-maker for one Bruce Willis didn’t do so much for Cybill Shepherd. However, it’s still a good watch after all these years."
    - Jules Faber
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